116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Many Iowans support traffic cameras because local officials claim that these devices will improve safety. But for people all across the state - and country - who have lived under the daily scrutiny of traffic cameras, it quickly becomes a different story.
A number of states have already prohibited the use of traffic cameras. And now a bill in the Iowa Legislature (Senate File 516) would do the same here in Iowa. Here's why we need to pass such legislation:
Dubious Safety Data
The safety data that is often cited is, at best, conflicting. In some places, for example, traffic cameras have led to an increase in rear-end accidents because they cause drivers to slam on the brakes to avoid an automatically generated ticket.
Traffic cameras also are unlikely to protect against many of the most dangerous drivers. A traffic camera, for example, is far less likely to stop a drunken driver than a flesh-and-blood officer. Also, because citation information collected by cameras doesn't get reported to the Iowa Department of Transportation (unlike speeding tickets issued by officers), it isn't effective in flagging repeat high speeders.
What we do know for sure is that traffic cameras are revenue generators. They can bring in millions of dollars every year for the cities that set them up - with little to no indication that they are doing anything to promote public safety. They become an involuntary, confusing, unfair fee on car owners.
It's clear: Traffic cameras are more about making money for cities than they are about safety.
Due Process Issues
It's concerning that vehicle owners get ticketed, rather than the actual driver (a child, a spouse, etc.). There is also a problem of insufficient notice when cities do not post signs in areas where drivers are approaching traffic cameras.
It is unfair that traffic cameras ticket small offenses, such as stopping slightly over the white line - offenses officers would be unlikely to ticket. In fact, some cities even shorten yellow light times to increase violations and increase revenue.
We're also troubled that localities have become reliant on the revenue the cameras generate. Even if you support local government getting that additional revenue, realize that in Iowa, a staggering amount of money also goes to out-of-state traffic camera vendors. To add insult to injury, unlike our local government, these private companies are not subject to open record laws, which could be used to track down traffic camera misuse and abuse.
Creating a Surveillance Culture
Perhaps more than anything, we oppose the 'Big Brother” approach to governing that traffic cameras embody. Traffic cameras allow for massive government monitoring of our driving behaviors at a scale that exceeds anything possible with traditional traffic enforcement methods.
Restrictions are needed. Iowa cities right now can do almost anything they want with traffic cameras, with few restrictions on how they may and may not be used, or how to spend the millions of dollars they take from people every year.
Several Iowa cities are using traffic cameras, with more considering adding them. This means the problem will get worse, not better. We urge state legislators to take this opportunity to act now, and in doing so, protect the rights of all Iowans.
Mark Stringer is the executive director of the ACLU of Iowa. Comments: email@example.com